Serial Experiments Lain

It’s time for Throwback Thursday,’s ongoing column dedicated to the great science fiction of the past.

We’ve looked at a lot of different types of science fiction over the past two years, ranging from treatment of the alien to the theories of time travel and their effects. We rarely talk about science fiction in terms of the internet though, so I think it’s about time to talk about that weird little anime that continues to blow people’s mind nearly twenty years later, ‘Serial Experiments Lain’.

Well, maybe it still blows people’s mind. It certainly still confuses them.

‘Serial Experiments Lain’ was a 13-episode long show that centered around technology and how it intersects with reality, identity and communication. It features a shy young girl named Lain who ventures into the “wired” (the internet, essentially), and how that ultimately transforms her.

Because it’s Japanese, it does not follow standard forms of western narrative, so it’s a little hard to describe what actually goes on in the story. It starts with an email from a classmate that committed suicide the week prior. She claims that she abandoned her body and that God exists in the “wired”. Then it follows Lain as another persona of herself with a completely opposite personality interacts with the world while more and more horrific things happen in the real world. A man on a micro-machined drug shoots up a nightclub, and upon seeing Lain declares that the “wired” and the real world must never interact. Another man who plays dungeon crawlers confuses reality with the game and kills a little girl. Somehow, it all seems to center around Lain.

Since I try to keep this spoiler free, I won’t talk about the twist and how Lain is involved in all of this. Instead, I’ll talk about how this show uses each episode to take a look at different philosophies of identity and reality. Are you the same person on the internet as you are in “reality?” What consequences does that have? On you? On others? What is reality? Who controls it? Can you control reality by controlling your identity?

The questions go on and on, and there are never any definite answers, which is what makes this such a great science fiction series. Science fiction is about postulating futures and posing questions. It’s not about giving answers. It’s about making you consider all of the options, and my critical decisions about what it all means… and boy, does ‘Serial Experiments Lain’ do that.

So if you’re looking for a mind-bending series about technology and reality that isn’t ‘The Matrix’ (which came out a year after this series), this is the show for you. Also, the opening theme is amazing, so even if you don’t like Lain, you’ll at least like the intro.